High-Crime Areas And The Fourth Amendment

I think The Kinks said it best through their song Slum Kids when it came to growing up in a tough part of town.

We’re just slum kids, and we know it,

And we never stood a chance.

We were dragged up from the gutter,

From the wrong side of the tracks.

However, living in a tough part of town does not strip you of your 4th Amendment rights, as the 8th District Court of Appeals pointed out in State v. Jackson, 2017-Ohio-1369.

In Jackson, Jackson was stopped by the Narcotic Gang Unit of the Cleveland Police Department.  At the time of the stop, Jackson and two other occupants were in his car that was parked along the side of the road.  Jackson’s vehicle, however, was parked in a high crime area.  Upon approaching Jackson’s vehicle, the detectives observed an open liquor bottle in the vehicle.

During the investigation, the detectives found a loaded handgun in Jackson’s jacket.  Jackson was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle, and having weapons while under disability.

Jackson moved to have the evidence from the stop suppressed.  After hearing all testimony, the trial court overruled Jackson’s motion to suppress.  Jackson filed a timely appeal.

After reviewing the testimony from the motion to suppress hearing, the appellate court found that the state’s case “rests solely on the character of the area.”  State v. Pettegrew, 2009-Ohio-4981.

Specifically, a person parked in a high-crime area does not diminish the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.  State v. Locklear, 2008-Ohio-4247. Acts that are not specifically criminal in character do not become criminal because they are inapposite to their setting and therefore suspicious.  Id.  The setting can inform the officer’s judgment, but it does not make the act criminal.  Id.

The appellate court found that the detective did not articulate a sufficient basis for his reasonable suspicion that a crime was afoot at the time he initiated the investigatory stop.  Rather, the appellate court determined, the detectives initiated the traffic stop based on a mere hunch and their belief that Jackson’s parked vehicle was suspicious based on the character of the area.

Based on that, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s original decision.


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